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Hong Kong announced on Friday that it will abolish some of the strictest travel restrictions, bringing relief to residents and businesses clamouring for the city to rejoin the rest of the world in resuming unhindered travel and living with Covid-19. Restrictions like mandatory hotel quarantine had a devastating effect on the economy and had kept the financial centre of the isolated from the world.

The tight zero-Covid regulations that Hong Kong has followed for the previous two and a half years have intensified a brain drain as competitors reopened.

Hong Kong's relaxation on restrictions will leave mainland China as the only major economy still hewing to lengthy quarantine for international arrivals.

Chief Executive John Lee said the current three days of hotel quarantine would be reduced to zero for those arriving from overseas.

Hong Kong: Rules for International travelers

  • Chief Executive John Lee said the current three days of hotel quarantine would be reduced to zero for those arriving from overseas.
  • From 26 September, travellers will be subject to PCR tests on arrival.
  • They will be barred from visiting restaurants and bars for the first three days under a system authorities have dubbed "0 3".
  • Visitors who test positive when they arrive, will still be housed in hotels or government camps.
  • Entry quotas from the Chinese mainland have also been removed. However, those travelling in the other way are still subject to Beijing's stringent zero-Covid quarantine requirements.

Recession

Although Hong Kong formerly had one of the busiest airports in the world, this year's passenger volume is just 3.8% of pre-pandemic levels.

After Covid ravaged the city at the beginning of the year, the government came under increasing pressure from citizens, business leaders, and even some of its own public health advisers to lift the quarantine.

At its peak, quarantine lasted as long as 21 days and about 113,000 residents have left the city since mid-2021, according to official figures.

The economic toll has been severe. The city is currently in a technical recession -- two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

Paul Chan, the chief financial officer of Hong Kong, has warned that the city would likely experience a complete recession by the end of 2022, and that the budget deficit will double, to HK$100 billion ($12.7 billion), from earlier projections.

"For Hong Kong to truly regain competitiveness vis-a-vis other cities around the world, the announcement is not enough; Hong Kong should be totally connected to the world without hindrance," said AmCham president Eden Woon.

Rivals reopened

Despite adhering to China's zero-Covid regulations, Hong Kong's experience with the pandemic was different from that of the mainland.

Travel restrictions in Hong Kong, like those in China, Singapore, New Zealand, and Taiwan, assisted in putting an end to the virus in 2020 when the pandemic caused a wave of disease and death throughout a large portion of the rest of the world.

However, as a major international gateway, Hong Kong found it difficult to eradicate the virus permanently and was unable to implement the same type of city-wide lockdowns as the authoritarian mainland.

The Omicron variant ripped through mostly unvaccinated elderly victims, overwhelming hospitals that were not adequately prepared.

With approximately 10,000 fatalities per 100,000 people in a population of 7.4 million, Hong Kong witnessed one of the highest per capita mortality rates in the world despite strict travel restrictions and social segregation laws.

Taiwan, which said Thursday it would end quarantine rules in mid-October, has a similar number of deaths but its population is three times the size.

Hong Kong's approach stood in stark contrast to financial rivals such as London, Singapore, New York and Tokyo, which steadily reopened this year.

About four million people are expected to visit Singapore this year.

(With inputs from AFP)

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